Emmanuel Addeh traces the crises in Brass, Bayelsa State, noting that underneath the violence is a battle for control of the levers of power in the area
Last February, a violent confrontation between youths loyal to the two dominant political parties in Bayelsa State led to the death of one Ayebatonye Junior, who was reportedly shot in the neck by supporters of a rival gang.
One month earlier, at least, three persons were seriously injured when youths loyal to the All Progressives Congress (APC) and supporters of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) engaged in an open confrontation. The survivors appear unaware that they are, perhaps, puns in the chessboard of a huge and bloody power play between two local political principalities.
The identified rallying point are a chieftain of the APC, Mr. Israel Sunny-Goli, the only member of the party in the State House of Assembly and Mr. Victor Isaiah, the Caretaker Chairman of Brass Local Government, whose physical build literally bears testimony to the enormous political weight he is capable of exerting when the need arises.
The battle appears to be a proxy war between former Governor Timipre Sylva, who has his roots in Brass and is aiming for a return to the government house and the current Governor of the State, Mr. Seriake Dickson, who is not willing to yield any ground to his arch-rival even as the politics leading to the of 2019 general elections gradually picks momentum.
In the build-up to the 2015 elections in the state, Brass, an Island with a gory history of resistance to white colonial masters, leading to hundreds of death at the time, was a hotbed of violence.
Not only was the house of the then Secretary to the State Government, King Serena Dokubo-Spiff, attacked and reportedly razed, but quite a number of persons from camps of the APC and the PDP were also severely affected in the imbroglio.
Indeed, there are different versions of the cause of the latest brouhaha, which interestingly followed the same trend and pattern: heavily armed youths, always on the lookout in defence of their paymasters taking the law into their hands; killing and maiming in the process.
By the time the dust settled, at least three persons had been felled by bullets from weapons used in the fight, while many more were left with life-threatening injuries.
Nonetheless, Brass has always been a turf for war, but the tension was said to have heightened three years ago, after Sunny-Goli, who seemingly throws everything into the ring during political fights, not minding the cost, beat Sam Ateki of the PDP, the Deputy Speaker in the state House of Assembly election and again held out for Sylva during the governorship election.
In the latest incident, a clash between the familiar foes from both camps, was said to have led to the temporary displacement of the affected PDP youths from the small, but oil-rich island, leading to a retaliatory attack.
In the end, one Peter George, Kelvin Ikurusi and one other lay dead, while many people from both camps were wounded. The clashes have since become routine.
But depending on whose camp is speaking, there have been diverse versions as well as finger-pointing even as each party fights hard to push back on allegations by the other.
In the meantime, the camp of the Caretaker Chairman of the council, Isaiah, has been running with the story that the violence started when suspected armed cultists attempted to assassinate the local government boss.
“From the reports available to us, the plan was to assassinate the council boss before the political season that is approaching. The APC lawmaker (Sunny-Goli) is responsible for the crises in Twon Brass. There is this thug (Ikurusi) that died in the incident. He was reported to have led the breaking of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) cell in Yenagoa some months ago, an incident that led to the dismissal of four SARS officers. Since then, this thug and other cultists were used by the APC member to terrorise innocent people in Brass Island and neighbouring communities,” a source from Isaiah’s camp said.
Taking almost the same position, a former Commissioner for Transport under Governor Dickson, who is now a chieftain of the PDP and a House of Representatives hopeful, Marie Ebikake, also believes that Mr Sunny-Goli, who is equally eyeing the lower chamber of the National Assembly, for the same seat, is the mastermind behind the violence in Brass, especially in Twon-Brass.
Going down memory lane, Ebikake argued that since Sunny-Goli entered the political scene in Brass, the relative peace on the island no longer exists.
According to her, Sunny-Goli was not only responsible for the recent violence, but for several other crimes in the area, including abducting her because she returned to Governor Dickson’s camp after initially falling out with him, a claim the accused politician immediately repudiated.
“What is going on in Brass started from him (Sunny-Goli). He was an aspirant for the House of Assembly election under Accord Party. Before 2007, Twon Brass was a peaceful place until Sunny-Goli came in and his master, Timipre Sylva became Governor, then this orgy of killings started.
“In Brass, you can just sit and cult boys would just come to attack you with knives, machetes and even hit you with the bottles you were drinking from. Everybody is afraid in Brass. Let me take our mind back. I spent Christmas of 2017 and New Year 2018 in Brass and in the early hours of January 10, my house was vandalised. I attended a meeting and made a statement that this time around we cannot allow them to take over the state because in 2015 it was a mistake.
“After I left Brass, they vandalised my house. As if that was not enough, January 14 I was kidnapped here. As I was being led out of the window by five armed men the first question was ‘why did you reconciled with Governor Dickson? It was then it dawned on me that it was a politically-motivated kidnap and I was taken to the forest. I am saying with all authority that Sunny- Goli was responsible for my kidnap. He has committed a lot of havoc. After the killing of those people in 2007, in 2015, he destroyed the houses of HRH Serena Dokubo- Spiff and HRH Beimo-Spiff Cameroun,” she alleged.
On the latest incident, she said that suspected hoodlums came with arms and ammunition, the boys in the Council Chairman’s Lodge repelled them. She advised Sunny-Goli to honour the police and Department of State Service (DSS) invitations extended to him and stop the violence in the oil-rich town.
However, Sunny-Goli, in a riposte, said that Ebikake was blackmailing him because she was also interested in contesting the House of Representatives Seat in the area and therefore would do anything to justify her nomination. He said, “the PDP is giving her (Ebikake) a ticket to contest for the House of Representatives. She is doing all of these to blackmail me to get the ticket. But the people of her constituency are with me and the APC. Our support is intact.
“The people believe in because I invest in them. If they want the people’s support, let them go and invest in the people. As for her kidnap, the police investigated it and I had nothing to do with.”
He maintained that there was a ploy to intimidate the APC loyalists in the oil-rich council, insisting that he had never been involved in any form of violence.
“We have had many local government chairmen but the present caretaker chairman of the council was appointed by Dickson with the mandate to chase away APC members,” he alleged.
Not one to allow his voice to be drowned out by his opponents, The Caretaker Committee Chairman of Brass, maintained that Sunny-Goli armed thugs to kill him.
He said the thugs, who were working for Sunny-Goli, died in the violence that occurred when members of the Brass Vigilant group, foiled their attempts to kill him.
In the interim, the Bayelsa State Government said it launched investigations into the violence that left the three youths dead, vowing to ensure the arrest and prosecution of all the hoodlums including high-profile politicians fingered in the bloody clash.
Speaking at the Government House, Yenagoa, the Deputy Governor, Rear Admiral John Jonah (rtd.), also confirmed the dusk to dawn curfew earlier imposed in the area by the council chair, saying it remained in force.
He said preliminary investigations showed that the mayhem was sponsored by some highly-placed individuals for political purposes.
He said the state government directed the law enforcement agencies to launch a thorough investigation into the activities of the hoodlums and ensure the prosecution of all persons indicted.
“The state government is greatly dismayed that Twon-Brass, which is a major oil exporting terminal in the country is being used as a hub of criminal activities with its attendant adverse effect on the economy of not only the state, but of the entire country.
“The state government has consequently imposed curfew in Twon-Brass from 9pm to 6am. All residents of the area are expected to comply with the curfew, which will be lifted as soon as normalcy is restored,” the Deputy Governor said.
But he was immediately slammed by the state Publicity Secretary of the APC, Doifie Buokoribo, who accused the state government of attempting to cover up the killings of its members in Brass Island.
“The Deputy Governor has largely confirmed our earlier claim that he had deployed his relationship with the navy wrongly to intimidate APC members in Twon-Brass. It was so disappointing that the Deputy Governor could not tell the world that it was members of his party who attacked Comrade Oputongha Pogo, an APC member, at the Ada-Ama Square on,”he said.
For now, the APC in Bayelsa has sent a protest letter to the Inspector General of Police over the violence while the PDP maintains that one of the major actors in the crisis, Sunny-Goli, must respond to invitation by the security agencies.
However, what has come out clearly from the incessant bloody clashes in Brass is that there are too many deadly weapons in the wrong hands which must urgently be mopped up before the next elections in the area to avoid yet another bloodbath.